by Richard Greenberg
Directed by David Grindley
Starring Mercedes Ruehl and Lily Rabe
Manhattan Theatre Club at the
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th Street
Official Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

I have no idea what to make of The American Plan, in revival as part of the Manhattan Theatre ClubÕs Broadway season. The 1990 Richard Greenberg play, whose off-Broadway debut was also under the auspices of MTC, is set in the Catskill Mountains during their heyday as a summer resort area in the 1960s. It's about an eccentric and troubled young woman (Lily Rabe), who makes annual visits there with her mother, to find peace and quiet; but finds that serenity upended by the arrival of a handsome young man (Kieran Campion), via an unique entrance from under a pool of water, who becomes smitten by her singular personality (which does have its odd charms) and in short order becomes her suitor. When her mother (Mercedes Ruehl), an elegant and imperious a German-Jewish refugee, learns of the relationship, Mom seems less than pleased, and does her subtle, insinuating best to sour it (while her longtime servant, who at the time would have been called a Negress, here played by Brenda Pressley, looks on almost impassively, sometimes responding with the wry wit of one who is treated like an equal, but knows she is not perceived as one). Especially because another young man (Austin Lysy) has entered, just as coincidentally, into the private little mother-daughter enclave, and heÉ

        Well, never mind. ThatÕs the storyÕs biggest spoiler.

      IÕve read that The American Plan is GreenbergÕs homage to Henry JamesÑspecifically his novel Washington Square and the play-movie adaptation, The HeiressÑand in that light, itÕs a more than skilled and worthy literary exercise and eminently tolerableÑI mean that as a genuine virtue, not as a mildly appreciated, academic accomplishment. Still, though, taken on its own terms, itÕs a brushstroke of an item, like a New Yorker short story with an O. Henry reversal at the end. ThatÕs not necessarily a bad thing, but itÕs also not a thing of Broadway weight (and certainly not at the prices) and itÕs puzzling to see it revived as if it were a classic, a career benchmark or even a piece that had made a resonant splash in its day (like Jason MillerÕs much richer That Championship Season). And IÕm not sure what weÕre meant to take away from it on a deeper, humanist level.

            All the performances are fine, under David GrindleyÕs subdued direction, and if you need an excuse to attend, the MsÕs Ruehl and Rabe may be sufficient. But they too have had and will have more meaningful turnsÉ

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